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2017-10-12 Congratulations, lovely Sharon!

We joined lovely Sharon Jang as the results were announced in an essay test. We were so delighted that she mentioned the impact TNKR has had on her!

She first joined TNKR in early 2015. Her English was at a basic level, she joined both Tracks 1 and 2. She had no fear. And if you know her story about working in a coal mine in North Korea, then you can understand why the thought of giving public speeches gave her no fear.

This young lady seemed to be very interested in learning about TNKR, so I am guessing that she will be applying soon.

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2017-10-12 A Face Made for Radio, on TV again

Yes, I was back in a recording studio. Isn’t there anyone who can stop this madness?

TNKR Special Ambassador and I had a great conversation. I am used to giving my opinions, so interviewing is both easy (listen, then ask) and difficult (I have a lot to say, but must make sure others have a chance to talk). Read more

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2017-10-10 TNKR’s British Invasion

TNKR held its second planning meeting for its trip to the UK next week. We had many tasks assigned and have a lot to do.

Our biggest challenge: Attracting attendees to our 10/21 forum.

Here’s the agenda:

1:50- 2:05 Registration & tea time

2:05- 2:10 Welcoming remarks

Casey Lartigue Jr. (TNKR Co-founder)

Jihyun Park (Stepping Stones, Co-founder)

2:10-2:30 The Launch Ceremony of Stepping Stones

2:30-3:00 North Korean traditional dance performance

3:00-3:10 Tea time

3:10-3:25 Speaker 1

Kim Hyeong-soo: Understanding the North Korean System

3:25-3:45 Speaker 2

Park Ji-hyun: Life as a North Korean Woman in China

3:45-4:10 Speakers 3&4

Casey Lartigue & Eunkoo Lee: Impact of English education for North Korean refugees


Q & A

New TNKR volunteer Amy Leete made the following flyer. What a relief. I was stumbling, trying to figure out how to make an appropriate flyer, answering so many messages and handling so many tasks, then Amy followed up on her promise to make a flyer for us.



+1 Volunteers

It is no secret that TNKR relies on volunteer tutors and coaches. But we also have plenty of volunteers helping in other ways. I encourage volunteers to be +1. In addition to tutoring or coaching, they can do one extra thing.

Annie was a volunteer tutor with TNKR in early 2016. She has stayed in touch, promising that she would get involved again. She stopped by on Sunday, she has offered to help us with translation (English and Korean) and social media (Instagram).

Goeun just joined us as a coach. She is now recruiting friends, starting with Rafael, who has offered to do English-Portuguese translation.

Amy is joining TNKR as a tutor, but she has already made it clear that she wants to help in other ways. Here she is with Eunkoo discussing our upcoming UK trip.

We will be having a planning meeting at our office, Amy will be joining that. It helps that she has experience with volunteering as a leader so she understands our challenges.

Wendy joined TNKR last month as an intern. She had thought she could be a receptionist or help with adiministrative tasks. But we learned she has video editing skills, so she helped us with a big project. Here she is interviewing a refugee who returned to TNKR after studying abroad. He wants live English situations, so we gave him one!

From the “It takes a village” Track 2 file

How does a TNKR refugee end up on stage giving a speech?

Step 1: Refugee applies for TNKR

Step 2: TNKR co-directors Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue interview the refugee about goals and desire for joining the program. Some students choose Track 1 (English study), some choose Track 2 (Public Speaking), some others do both Tracks.

Step 3: Refugee participates in an orientation session with other refugees joining or rejoining.

Step 4: Refugee attends a Matching session choosing coaches.

Step 5: Refugee begins studying with coaches.

Step 6: TNKR is offered a speech opportunity, we offer opportunities to refugees who then apply for the opportunity.

Step 7: Refugee then works with coaches to get prepared for actual speech opportunity.

For some, there are additional steps, such as Youngmin Kwon or another TNKR volunteer translating the refugee’s speech from Korean to English in order to keep the speech as authentic as possible. We often have TNKR volunteer editors to then check the content.

By the time the speakers go on stage, they would have had opportunities to practice with coaches. I have seen some cases of refugees connected with other organizations asked to give speeches with absolutely no preparation, the result being rambling and unfocused speeches. Some of the refugees seemed to be kicking themselves. With TNKR, they would have been able to work with speech coach mentors who help them with grammar, pronunciation, delivery, and other basic speech techniques so they can give high quality speeches, and feel good about it.

We require coaches and refugees to share the various versions of the edited documents to prevent any unprincipled coaches from adding their own ideas or making it their own speeches.

This photo is from a session with Hyeongsoo, a refugee in TNKR who will be giving a few speeches in the UK. Jennifer helped him with pronunciation, going line by line, correcting every mispronounced word.

A few minutes ago, another coach, Giles, sent a recording of the speech, in a proper gentlemanly British accent, so that Hyeongsoo would be able to copy the pronunciation and flow.


Earlier today TNKR Special Ambassador Cherie Yang dropped by the TNKR office. It is incredible, she will be giving a TEDx Talk in the UK in a few weeks. Professor Tony Docan-Morgan has been helping us sharpen up Track 2. When it comes to public speaking and communication, he knows. It has been his life for the past 15 years, he has been teaching communication at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

Cherie has been with us for two years, I have been able to witness and be a part of her incredible transformation as a public speaker. She was reluctant at first, but her confidence now is incredible, she doesn’t passively wait for coaches and others. She has her own ideas about what she wants to communicate.

Not every refugee is ready to open their identities to the public. And that’s fine with us! We have had some refugees who have joined Track 2 so they can learn about public speaking but with no intention of ever giving a speech. Others join with the goal of eventually giving public speeches, but don’t want to open up their identities just yet.

Mark is one of her coaches, he is a volunteer who has been part of both tracks, has donated to TNKR, and also encouraged his friends to donate. He has retired after having had a long professional career in the USA, TNKR has become one of his hobbies.

Here is another refugee who seeks to remain anonymous. We have developed a number of activities and speaking opportunities for refugees who want to learn public speaking without opening themselves up to scrutiny. She participated in one of our big events recently. She got great feedback from TNKR senior fellow Tony Docan-Morgan. He pulled double duty today, giving feedback to both this refugee and Cherie.


We were even visited today by the main organizer of the recent TEDx that Eunkoo Lee and I spoke at a month ago.



2017-10-08 Orientation 1 for new tutors

TNKR is currently recruiting tutors for its October 15 Language Matching session. Yesterday we had an orientation with six tutors who will be joining us for the Matching session on 10/15 from 2 pm at the TNKR office. We admit refugees to the Matching session based on the number of applicants who finish the application process. With six volunteers already confirmed, then we are confident that we can invite at least 5 refugees.

Would you like to join? Our next orientation sessions are 10/11 or 10/14. Apply here ASAP, get pre-approved by sending in your entire application. This will be Matching session number 65 for TNKR. 



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2017-10-01 Track 2 Matching session: Choice works, refugees are not passive

“North Korean refugees are passive.” “They must be paid to join NGO activities helping them.” “They are irresponsible and always late.”

Those are some of the comments I have heard over the years from people at other NGOs, from influential people who hear about refugees from colleagues; and others with grant money to recruit NK refugees into their activities. Many of them don’t believe it when I tell them that TNKR has a waiting list of more than 70 refugees eager to join us and that refugees chase us so they can join TNKR. Even refugees who can’t speak English will message me directly, asking how they can join TNKR.

Today at 2 pm we will be having a Language Matching session, our 65th. The first student to show up arrived at 9:40 a.m. this morning. Yes, more than 4 hours in advance.

Refugees are allowed to choose their tutors and coaches based on when they arrive to our Matching sessions. Ever since we saved enough money to get our own office, refugees have been able to arrive at our office (when we used other people’s offices, they understandably had restrictions on us). Some refugees have asked if they could stay overnight for the chance to choose first.

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2017-09-29 Distinguished Global Lecture Series, “The American Known in North Korea”

I had a fantastic time yesterday, I was the speaker at the Distinguished Global Lecture Series at the Graduate School of International Studies Ewha Woman’s University. It was one of the most welcoming and active audiences that I have spoken to in quite some time. They listened patiently, interrupted me during my speech with questions, then had plenty of questions at the end. TNKR co-director Eunkoo Lee declined my invitation to join me as a speaker, but she joined during Q&A to add additional points.

Thanks so much to Assistant Professor Hannah Jun for inviting me to speak. We met earlier this year, after she learned about me she said that she wanted to invite me to speak at Ewha. And it happened yesterday!

There are many South Koreans who are hesitant to invite speakers talking about North Korean related topics, so it is a special thing to have been invited to discuss TNKR! One very eager international student signed up as a volunteer a few hours after the event.

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2017-09-27 Pre-Interview

I am amazed that media can find TNKR. We don’t have a communications team, we don’t have a main person connecting with media. We don’t have a media list. I can’t remember the last time that we tried to connect with media.

Somehow, despite all of our activities, media finds us sometimes. And then, despite all of the juicy stories around the world about death, destructions, accidents, scandals, etc., the media still reports on TNKR sometimes.

Today I had an pre-interview with a pair of reporters. By the way, after they finished listening to me talk non-stop about TNKR, they decided there may be a story worth reporting.

TNKR is featured in this week’s Atlas Network World10

A year ago on this day, TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue was featured in the Dong-A newspaper.


English (Translated by Shin Myoungho)